Monday, July 16, 2012


Once again, I've realized that we've been committing that all-too-easy crime of forgetting to document things that are now relatively normal to us, but downright, well, foreign to everyone else.

So, today, I'd like to highlight the notable German institution of pfand.

Now, you know how, in the US, there are those recycling machines in front of Walmart (or wherever) that, I assume, give you some sort of tiny bit of money in exchange for a pickup truck-load of beer cans (or whatever)?  I'm not exactly sure about this since I was always afraid to go check them out (again--the pickup trucks full of beer cans were always there, you know?).  But, right, well, you know those things?

And you know how sometimes you'd think something like, "Well, that's cool that you can get 2 cents for a garbage bag full of plastic water bottles"?  This being, of course, immediately followed with the thought, "But I will never have a garbage bag full of plastic water bottles!"

All I'm really saying here, is that Germany does something a little similar...yet, totally different.  Different because everyone does it and it's actually worth it.  

So, this is what happens...

You go to the grocery store because you want to get some raspberry juice. (Oh yeah, this is a thing and it's an amazing thing too).

But, there's no raspberry juice in stock (or as a stock photo online), so instead you get a raspberry yogurt drink, like this one...
On the little price tag, it says that it costs 1.25 but 1.50 with pfand.  

This just means that you're going to pay 1.50 for this yogurt drink today, but if you want to get 25 cents back, you can bring your empty bottle for a "refund" the next time you come by!

So, you drink your yogurt drink and you put the bottle on your dishwasher because you think, "Hey, next time I go to the store, I'll get my 25 cents back!  Also, I'm going to totally remember to do that!"

And then, six months later, the top of your dishwasher looks like this...

But, it's all good!  Why?  Because eventually you can't fit any more bottles on top of your dishwasher and, one week, you actually remember to throw them all into a canvas bag and take them with you to the grocery store.

At the grocery store, you get to play with this incredibly fun toy that looks something like this...

The game goes like this:
Step 1: Put bottle into hole.
Step 2: Watch bottle spin around 100x's a second as the hole lights up with little laser-scanners looking for the pfand-code-thing-whatever-it-finds.  Then watch as the bottle gets sucked into a black hole of mystery in the back.*
Step 3: Repeat
Step 4: Press green button when there's nothing else fun to put in there. (I've always wanted to try to put my arm in...but I'm too scared.)
Step 5: Take the receipt that then works as a kind of grocery store gift card.

People (namely, foreign people like me) are so enamored with the pfand toy that they take videos of it in action and post them to youtube.  Like this Brazilian guy.

So, yes, that's the story of pfand.  And, judging by the lines at the pfand machine, it's a pretty successful recycling program.  

And we get to be a part of it...approximately twice a year...

* So...sometimes...if you didn't check for the little pfand symbol beforehand (see top), or you didn't look to see if you were returning it to the right store (sometimes they're specific like that), the pfand machine will spin the bottle around and then shoot it back at you instead of into the black hole.  This was...disconcerting...the first time it happened.  However, now I can say that I'm very particular about checking these things before approaching the pfand-gods--you do not want to make them angry.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds pretty similar to bottle deposit in Maine (except the Germans have a better machine for it, naturally).


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